Our Favorite Secret Agent
James Bond, the suave British intelligence agent who first debuted as a film character 50 years ago, is back for a new installment called "Skyfall," which earned a sterling 93 percent approval rate from critics, according to RottenTomatoes.com.
Few characters, perhaps none, have withstood the passage of time as well. According to film critic Bill Desowitz, author of the book "James Bond Unmasked," the James Bond film franchise is the longest-running continuous franchise ever.
After all these years, why are we just as in love with Bond as we were decades ago? Here are the top five reasons:
He's a badass
James Bond is a hero through and through, and that includes not being afraid of danger.
He's self-assured, confident, and unapologetic.
"Unlike Jason Bourne, James Bond knows exactly who he is," said Bond expert John Cork, author of the book "James Bond: The Legacy." "As human beings we are all filled with a certain level of self doubt. Bond really doesn't embrace self doubt."
Plus, he's just plain cool.
"We all have terrible things that happen in our lives, and we watch James Bond have these things and a few minutes later he's making love to a beautiful woman, or he's making a joke," said Cork, who recently worked on the special features for the 50th Anniversary James Bond Blu-ray set.
What sets Bond apart from other rough-and-tumble heroes is his elegance. The man knows how to wear a tux, he knows cocktails ("shaken, not stirred"), and he certainly knows the art of seduction.
"He has sexual confidence, depth of knowledge, sophistication," Desowitz said.
Cork thinks this sophistication comes in part from the character's creator, Ian Fleming, the former British naval intelligence officer who penned the Bond series of books on which the films are based, starting in 1953.
Fleming "imbued the character of James Bond with a very particular British attitude that, as the British Empire was crumbling and disappearing, summed up what the world loved most about Britain," Cork said. "That core attitude, that unique perspective, was so perfectly embodied in this character."
James Bond is exemplified not just by how he holds a gun, but by how he gets his bespoke clothes tailored at Savile Row, how he drives a hand-built sports car, knows how to make a perfect hard-boiled egg, and cares deeply about the best kind of jam to put on his morning toast. While we can't all be as smooth, Bond taps into our lust for the good life.
Another hallmark of James Bond is his love for high-tech gadgets. While lots of later film heroes have brandished futuristic guns and tricked-out cars, Bond started the trend. And at the time the character of Bond was created, technology wasn't nearly as popular or accepted as it is today.
"One of the things that was revolutionary about James Bond as a character was he was the first true pop culture hero who embraced the power of technology," Cork said. "In most science fiction at that time, technology was not to be trusted, not to be allowed in human hands."
Bond, on the other hand, succeeds in part through his use of newfangled gizmos given to him by "Q Branch," including jetpacks, gyrocopters, exploding pens, and submersible cars with ejector seats and machine guns that extend from its headlights. [Top 5 Most Outrageous James Bond Gadgets]
Eight different actors have played the character of James Bond over the ages, imbuing the spy with different moods, yet maintaining his essential character.
Each of these actors, from Sean Connery, who originated the role, to Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and now Daniel Craig, has stayed true to Bond's inherent mix of toughness and class.
"They were very careful to cast the right people at the right time," Desowitz said.
Sean Connery, in particular, set the mold for the Bonds to follow. He blended his rugged Scottish heritage with an essential element of elegance to portray the debonair intelligence agent.
"I don't believe it would have lasted if they had cast anyone besides Sean Connery," Desowitz said. "He was so unique. He was in the Cary Grant mold, only rougher and even more dangerous."
Ultimately, Bond stands the test of time, because he has always been both of his time and above it.
Though his core character is constant, Bond adapts to the time period of his films, bending to meet the evolving desires of audiences.
"The films have changed dramatically over that 50-year period," Cork said. "The Bond films went from being adventure-spy films, to being outright comedies in the 1970s, and then they transformed in the 1990s to make Bond relevant after the Cold War. They created Bond in each generation's image."
With "Skyfall," the filmmakers were acutely aware of the need to honor the legacy of Bond, but also establish the relevance of a '50s era spy operating in a modern world.
"It was to me very clear that at some level the discussion at the center of the movie is, what is the point of a secret service [started during the Cold War] now, what is the point of Bond, and therefore what is the point of Bond movies?" director Sam Mendes told reporters in New York last month. "At its core is an argument for all three."
Mendes said that part of the franchise's continued popularity has to do with the values, such as trust, friendship, and courage, it is based on.
"In a way, it's deeply old-fashioned in its values," Mendes said. "But I think they never go out of date."